Ambassadors of Freedom

Is it possible that the priceless free­doms of the nineteenth and twentieth cen­turies have died or are dying out of the hearts of a race that has so marvelously benefited by them?

J. ARTHUR BUCKWALTER, Secretary, International Religious Liberty Association

There is Bartholdi's great statue of Lib­erty guarding the greatest harbor in the world," exclaimed an American traveler to a distinguished French visitor as their great liner headed into New York Harbor. "Ah, yes," replied the Frenchman, "it is very, very fine. In France we, too, build monu­ments to the illustrious dead." Liberty dead? Is it possible that the priceless free­doms of the nineteenth and twentieth cen­turies have died or are dying out of the hearts of a race that has so marvelously benefited by them?

O Liberty! can man resign thee,

Once having felt thy generous flame?

Can dungeons, bolts, or bars confine thee?

Or whips thy noble spirit tame?


Humanity's hope for future years hangs breathless on the fate of freedom. And yet the folly of the twentieth century is the readiness with which all to many religious and secular movements would abandon the principle of free churches in a free world. At this time when the future welfare of the race hinges upon the ability of the United Nations to achieve international freedom of religion, evil agencies of uniformity and oppression are combining their forces for an assault on the liberties of mankind.

With bewildering rapidity Adventists are being hurled into the limelight of world affairs. The forces of conformity and uni­formity, of religious legislation and perse­cution, are alive and are manifesting a demonic dynamism conditioning the masses. Our duty is clear. "The banner of truth and religious liberty which these Re­formers [of the sixteenth century] held aloft has in this last conflict been com­mitted to us." The question is: "Are we in this last conflict of the great controversy as faithful to our trust as were the early Re­formers to theirs?"—Testimonies, vol. 6, pp. 402, 403.

Prophecy reveals that two world views will confront each other in global conflict (Rev. 13:13-17 versus Rev. 14:6-12). At the heart of this world message for this tragic hour is the issue of religious free­dom versus religious legislation. It will yet be determined whether men will choose to worship their Creator in the face of reli­gious legislation carrying penalties of eco­nomic boycott and physical violence, or whether they will, under the pressure of religious laws, bow down before earth's last church-state world federation as their dei­fied idol.

What are we as Adventists doing to meet this situation? Are we prepared to combat these forces aimed at the total rule and total exploitation of the human race? Are we seeking to awaken in all lands a new devotion to the principles of religious lib­erty? Are we sufficiently organized and ac­tive to cope with the growing forces of re­ligious legislation that presage a new night of the spirit? Such questions as these con­front us with the stark reality of our un­preparedness, and call us to awake from our complacency and smugness and to come alive for God and for freedom. We must fulfill our God-given destiny.

All the momentous choices of history seem to have been resurrected to converge upon our day. To these have been added new twentieth-century lessons on the subtle inroads of tyranny with their demonic global impact. Space permits only a very brief discussion of two of the great reli­gious issues confronting the modern world. I refer to the ecumenical movement and the organized efforts to secure Sunday legis­lation.

Conformity to the will of the majority—the essence of an imposed theocratic im­perialism—is fast becoming a popular doc­trine of our day. To be controversial or to take a dissenting viewpoint is almost as serious a crime in the eyes of some advo­cates of ecumenicity as it is to be a spy or a traitor. Intimidation and the attempted silencing of independent opinion is fre­quently practiced even in unsuspected quarters. The forces of coercion and uni­formity are deeply entrenched in the higher eschelons of society.

The Ecumenical Movement

There is a trend in the ecumenical move­ment to place a higher value upon unity than upon truth. This is one of the greatest questions confronting religion today. In all the ecumenical movements of the past, sooner or later, disunity was eliminated simply by eliminating religious liberty. The established, or so-called orthodox, religion not only required submission to its tradi­tions on the penalty of excommunication but by the aid of the state legislated sub­mission to its religious laws on the penalty of persecution. Infamous religious legisla­tion has resulted in fines, imprisonment, and even torture and death, for those who stood true to their dissenting convictions.

Edward John Carnell recently wrote a very penetrating article in Christianity To­day entitled "Orthodoxy and Ecumenism" in which he asks the question:

Do we find the truth by submitting to the church, or do we find the church by submitting to the truth? Rome defends the first possibility, while the Reformers defend the second. But a choice must be made; the option is forced. Rome contends that the truth is where the church is, while the Reformers contend that the church is where the truth is.—September 1, 1958, p. 16.

This places one of the vital issues in the ecumenical movement clearly before us, and as Mr. Carnell aptly observes, it would seem a very foolish expedient for us to cre­ate a Protestant counterpart to Romanism's visible unity. To do so would be to sur­render the individual's right to challenge ecclesiastical opinion. Modern man would then be confronted with a possible decision between a united church teaching error, and tolerated or persecuted minority churches in which more freedom of con­science would at least permit a possibility of arriving at truth. Truth must not be forced to yield to unity. As Carnell puts it, "It is better to be divided by truth than to be united by error."—Ibid., p. 17.

The final consequences of this ecumen­ical movement may once more place the entire world in jeopardy. Mr. Carnell has foreseen these dangers. He says:

When Protestants want unity so badly that they are embarrassed by the Reformation, they may want it so badly that they will end up surrender­ing their judgment to the Pope. They will have their coveted unity, to be sure, but at the price of the Word of God.—Ibid.

He further observes:

If the visible unity of Christendom is ever real­ized, it will be a sad day for the Gospel. Just as dem­ocratic freedom is preserved by a prudential balance of social interests, so the freedom of the gospel is preserved by a prudential balance of ecclesiastical interests. Orthodoxy is afraid that the ecumenical movement will upset the balance by taking too much power to itself.—/bid., p. 18.

It is not at all difficult to see how the rights of religious liberty may be greatly curtailed by the increasing strength of an ecumenical movement that may seek mo­nopoly in the promulgation and legislation of religious teaching. All history testifies to the fact that whenever religious union be­comes too strong, religious liberty becomes too weak.

We see emerging from the contending forces and complicating paradoxes on the religious scene here in the United States of America, a growing trend toward a new establishment of religion. This statement is made in introducing an article written by Martin E. Marty, associate editor of the Christian Century: "An attitude toward 'realized pluralism' has become the funda­mental article of America's national reli­gion in its institutional aspect."—The Christian Century, Oct. 15, 1953, p. 1176.

This tendency to demand uniform sup­port for what might be considered the of­ficial majority religion makes religious di­vergent viewpoints irrelevant. Thoughtful men and women should ponder well Dr. Marty's assertion, "It has become almost impossible to be an infidel or even a dis­senter." He further describes the new reli­gious establishment in America as—a gradual growth that supplants the simple separa­tion of church and state and the resultant religious voluntaryism that was the United States' outstand­ing institutional contribution to religious history. Custom and the compulsion of social pressures and national security have forged this new establish­ment. Such compulsion must be countered by an alert and self-purifying pluralism in which com­mitted Protestants can play a significant part.­Ibid.

Many liberal religionists feel that only what the various religions hold in common is essential to Christian thought. This means that faiths, such as ours, which teach what they believe to be a specific Biblical message for these times, are not acceptable, for such peculiarity is considered to be " 'ir­relevant for the public welfare.' " The fur­ther fact that Roman Catholicism has en­trenched its strength in the great urban centers gives further impetus to this trend. If Protestantism adopts as its official reli­gion a form of syncretism, reconciling and coalescing different faiths on the basis of generalities, it certainly will play into the hands of Romanism. By doing so it will be­tray the original Protestant position, which meant so much in the shaping of the cul­tural and religious freedoms of the West­ern world. If Protestants lose their protest they will quickly lose their freedom. It is their duty to "vigorously rebel against the new establishment, the ethos that allows no escape, no dissent." Current threats to religious freedom must not go unchal­lenged.

In this world age of human history every­thing of import happens with global im­pact. Men sense desperate need for a world government and a world religion. The great danger, as Arnold Toynbee has so clearly foreseen, is that man will accept world government, at the high price of his loss of liberty, and that an ecumenical reli­gio-political welfare state may be the next deified idol worshiped by man, who per­sistently rejects voluntary allegiance to the gospel of Christ.

Sunday Legislation

The psalmist has voiced one of the great­est warnings of history: "Shall the throne of iniquity have fellowship with thee, which frameth mischief by a law?" (Ps. 94:20). Religious legislation is the surest road to apostasy and doom. This is one of the great lessons of history, and our genera­tion is no exception. It is the object of Sa­tan to make his lawless attitude toward the law of God the legislated law of the land. This he can achieve in the name of religion and reformation by legislating the observance of a man-made sabbath.

The Sunday legislation sign, so long the objective of secret forces working against our spiritual liberties, is coming to the front. Old blue laws are being revived, and legislators are asked to sit in judgment over the human conscience. The tempo is in­creasing. Advocates of Sunday laws argue that if we do not legislate a day of rest this nation will play into the hands of "atheistic secularism." Years ago the servant of God wrote:

The Sunday movement is now making its way in darkness. The leaders are concealing the true is­sue, and many who unite in the movement do not themselves see whither the undercurrent is tending. Its professions are mild and apparently Christian, but when it shall speak it will reveal the spirit of the dragon. It is our duty to do all in our power to avert the threatened danger. We should endeavor to disarm prejudice by placing ourselves in a proper light before the people. We should bring before them the real question at issue, thus interposing the most effectual protest against measures to re­strict liberty of conscience.—Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 452.

The Sunday movement is no longer mak­ing its way in darkness. It is coming out in the open. It speaks with the voice of author­ity. It is a growing, organized pressure movement.

Men will exalt and rigidly enforce laws that are in direct opposition to the law of God. . . . Exalting a spurious rest day, they will seek to force men to dishonor the law of Jehovah, the transcript of His character. Though innocent of wrongdoing, the servants of God will be given over to suffer humilia­tion and abuse at the hands of those who, inspired by Satan, are filled with envy and religious bigotry. —Ibid., vol. 9, p. 229.

The Tragedy of Unpreparedness

What are we doing to prepare for the approaching crisis? "All heaven is astir" (ibid., vol. 5, p. 451), but "we are years be­hind" (ibid., p. 715) and still unprepared for the great issue before us. We are not fully "awake to the situation" in this hour when "as never before" there is "need of vigilance and concerted action" (ibid., p. 714). Our "work . . . must continually rise to greater prominence" and our efforts "be­come far more extensive."—Ibid., vol. 6, p. 23.

We as a people have not accomplished the work which God has committed to us. We are not ready for the issue to which the enforcement of the Sun­day law will bring us. It is our duty, as we see the signs of approaching peril, to arouse to action. . . . We are not doing the will of God if we sit in qui­etude, doing nothing to preserve liberty of con­science.—Ibid., vol. 5, pp. 713, 714.

The time has come for us to "spring into action," but the tragedy is, we are not ready. "Let us arouse to comprehend the situation and view the contest before us in its true bearings."--Ibid., p. 716.

What Should We Do?

Every union and local conference in North America should have a man of tact and experience to devote his time and en­ergies to religious liberty. He should be­come acquainted with those of influence and rightly represent the true principles of freedom. By voice and pen and public rallies he should seek to mold public opinion in favor of religious liberty.

Our overseas divisions should carefully study the measure of religious toleration or liberty existing within their territories and organize a program of religious liberty education throughout their divisions.

Our evangelists and pastors should preach on the great principles of religious freedom and acquaint both the general public and our own people with the neces­sary information to intelligently meet these issues. Our churches can be organized for community service to create a sense of pub­lic responsibility for the preservation of our freedoms.

Informed laymen in conversation with their friends and business associates can do much to mold opinion. Every church should have a religious liberty file includ­ing the names of men and women in pub­lic and professional life who are sympa­thetic to the great principle of equal free­dom under law. Each church should de­velop a freedom library of several volumes that can be loaned out to interested friends. Members can learn how to write letters to their Congressmen, Senators, and editors. Religious liberty rallies can be held. Tracts can be circulated. Liberty magazine should be given the widest possible circulation.

Our World Commission

Our work to preserve religious freedom must not be done in a corner or on a small scale. We have a world commission. We are to "seek to arouse the spirit of true Protes­tantism, awaking the world to a sense of the value of the privileges of religious lib­erty so long enjoyed."—Ibid. If we are go­ing to fulfill our destiny in this great cause of freedom we must do infinitely more than we have done in the past. The clarion call to Adventists everywhere is to awake them­selves and then unite their efforts to awake the world to a sense of their need to cham­pion the cause of religious liberty.

As James Russell Lowell once wrote:

When a deed is done for Freedom,

Through the broad earth's aching breast

Runs a thrill of joy prophetic,

Trembling on from east to west.

The Lord's spirit of liberty is being chal­lenged by Satan's spirit of tyranny. A de­monic dynamism pervades our dying civili­zation. Satanic combines have taken the field against freedom. As the power of Satan grows, God will intervene in behalf of His people. We will yet see what God can do with earth's weakest generation, what He can do with humble dedicated lives. We are approaching one of God's mightiest moments in all human history.

In a special sense, in the field of religious liberty, this is the Adventist hour of history. Let us catch up with God's timetable. Earth's last reformation is past due. Chris­tendom's revival hour has struck. Time's urgency is upon us. We must not in hesi­tancy or lethargy prolong the martyrdom of man. Will we keep our rendezvous with destiny? My fellow Adventist laborers in the great field of the world—you to whom God has committed the banner of religious freedom in earth's last conflict—Destiny is paging you!

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J. ARTHUR BUCKWALTER, Secretary, International Religious Liberty Association

January 1959

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